Intro by Darren Stanizzi, Senior Clinical Research Associate at Vor Bio
To recognize AML World Awareness Day this year, we had the pleasure of having a special guest speaker onsite to talk with our employees.
Antonio (Tony) Marrero Ochoa is a clinical trial nurse at Miami Cancer Institute where he plays a vital role in developing new therapies for blood cancers by enrolling patients in clinical trials and ensuring these patients receive the highest level of care.
I had a chance to sit down with Tony and learn more about his experience working with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) clinical trial patients and his passion for helping patients through their treatment journey.
Darren: Can you tell us about your personal background and how it led to your current role as a clinical trial nurse?
Tony: My passion for oncology began when my mother was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in Cuba. Unfortunately, my mother died from the disease. From that moment, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to helping others battling hematological cancers.
After moving to the United States, I started my career as a coordinator for clinical trials, working towards my goal of becoming a registered nurse. As a foreign medical graduate, I have faced unique challenges in pursuing my career in the US. While I am not licensed as a MD here, I am proud to play a vital role in the care of my patients as a nurse practitioner.
I have now been a clinical trial nurse for several years, working with patients on cutting-edge treatments for various forms of hematological malignancies. My motivation to become a clinical trial nurse stems from my passion for helping others struggling with cancer and my desire to be part of the solution in the fight against this disease. Every day, I witness my patients and their families struggling and in pain as they fight this disease. But it is their courage and determination that inspires me to work harder and do everything in my power to support them.
Darren: Walk us through a typical day for you at Miami Cancer Institute. What is it like to work with clinical trial patients?
Tony: As a clinical trial nurse, I work closely with the medical team to ensure that patients receive the right medications, procedures, and interventions according to the trial protocol.
Patient communication is also a vital part of my work. I spend time with each patient explaining the trial protocol and potential side effects and answering any questions they may have. It’s crucial to ensure that patients are fully informed and understand what to expect during their participation in the trial. I also provide emotional support and resources to help patients and their families cope with the challenges they may face throughout their treatment journey.
Working with AML patients can be both challenging and rewarding. AML is a complex and aggressive disease that requires close monitoring and frequent adjustments to treatment plans. But at the end of the day, knowing that I am contributing to advancing cancer research and making a difference in the lives of cancer patients makes it all worth it.
Darren: Talk to us about the challenges faced by AML patients. What should these patients consider when deciding whether to enroll in a clinical trial?
Tony: One of the biggest challenges that AML patients face is the limited treatment options available. Standard treatments for AML include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and bone marrow transplants. These treatments can have significant side effects and many patients may not be eligible for these therapies due to age or other medical conditions.
Clinical trials offer a potential solution to this problem by providing patients with access to innovative new treatments that may be more effective or less toxic than current therapies. Deciding whether to enroll in a clinical trial can be a difficult decision for patients and their families. There are several factors that patients should consider, including the potential risks and benefits of the trial, the qualifications and experience of the research team, and the impact of the trial on their daily life.
Darren: What can the sponsors of clinical trials do better to improve the patient experience?
Tony: Patients often feel overwhelmed and need clarification on the clinical trial process. It’s essential to ensure they have access to clear, concise information about what to expect. Clinical trial sponsors can provide this information through patient brochures, websites, or other materials that are easy to understand and accessible. Sponsors can also seek to make clinical trials more convenient for patients by providing transportation or lodging, offering flexible appointment times, or providing access to telemedicine services. By offering these types of resources, sponsors can help patients feel supported and valued throughout their participation in the trial.
Finally, sponsors can incorporate diversity in their clinical trials to ensure inclusive access, implementing plans that deliver optimized trial inclusiveness and decrease the disparities in clinical trials. Ultimately, this will lead to better patient outcomes and the advancement of cancer research.
Darren: What gives you hope for the future of AML treatment?
Tony: The advancements in targeted therapies, immunotherapy, precision medicine, and the collaborative efforts of healthcare providers, researchers, and biopharmaceutical companies give me hope for the future of AML treatment. By working together, we can pool our resources and expertise to develop innovative treatments and improve patient care. This is the time to start changing the paradigm in oncology and hematology and be creative in designing a new approach to kill the cancer without killing the “good cells.”
I believe that we are on the brink of major breakthroughs in the fight against AML and I am confident that we will continue to make significant progress in improving the lives of those affected by this disease.